For those living in the Midwest or the east coast, chances are you’re either staying indoors or wishing you could stay indoors instead of enduring weather that burns your thighs through your clothes. Whatever your situation, DJ P0LAR V0RTExxx is here with a handful of tracks tailored for your Arctic Blast Adventures. Just like this apocalyptic weather, this DJ only shows up around once a year and nobody asked for it.
Literally any song off of Björk’s Vespertine
The entirety of this album by appropriately Icelandic artist Björk sounds like the backdrop for sex in a crystal ice cavern, so you really can’t go wrong here. However, if you’ve lived this long without having listened to “Pagan Poetry” or “Unison” then I really can’t be sure you’ve consumed any art so far in the 21st Century.
If you forgot to buy toilet paper and find yourself running to the grocery store: Raw Language by Forest Swords
Nothing says “barren landscape” like instrumental electronic music. You’re going to be facing horizontal snow and wind chill beyond what our fragile human skin can handle. This track should make your experience just a bit more intimidating, perhaps getting your adrenaline to a point where you can ignore the tears turning to ice on your face. All because you “didn’t feel like stopping” anywhere on your way home from work yesterday.
If you’re going to be partying indoors with hot, spiked drinks: Shapeshift by Mono/Poly
One time I went to a show at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly where Mono/Poly was opening for Daedelus. Halfway through Mono/Poly’s set I had to leave because snow miraculously piled up to several inches worth of life threatening powder and I still had a 45 minute drive home north on I-95. On a good day, driving on I-95 is nothing short of a chase scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, so I’ll let your imagination decide what happens when ice is added to the mix. Every time I hear this song I can’t help but think about how much fun that show would’ve been.
If you’re going to spend your day depressed watching snow fall: Pink Rabbits by The National
Full disclosure: for this one I kinda just threw a dart at a board full of songs by The National. Luckily I landed on “Pink Rabbits” which is one of my favorites. Brew up a nice cup of hot lemon water, stare out your window, and attempt to conjure an apt personification relating yourself to snow drifting purposelessly through the grey sky while listening to this absolute banger.
If you’re going to spend your day on drugs watching snow fall: Skin Missing by Blank Body
This song is the musical equivalent to putting on the Metal Cap in Super Mario 64 and turning into a chrome entity. It’s an experience I’m sure literally everyone is curious about.
If you don’t listen to anything other than Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Anime Chill Beats To Study and Relax To: Butterfly / Satellite by Kidkanevil
Put those reruns of Sword Art Online on mute and throw this on, maybe it’ll match up like The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon. Then, maybe once you’re finished, actively support some working artists by purchasing their music instead of listening to bootleg 24/7 streams on YouTube (NOTE: The author would like to bring attention to the irony of linking several auto-generated YouTube Topic channels on this article immediately after calling out listeners of bootleg 24/7 streams on YouTube)
When all else fails: We like to Party! (The Vengabus) by The Vengaboys
Physics defying weather eventually grasps us all in some shape or form. As does the end of life, eternal abyss, death itself, and of course, The Vengabus. Whether we know it or not, it’s coming, and nobody knows when or how. The great tragedy of humanity is as such. We exist constantly aware of this interstate free disco to end all discos yet simultaneously so painfully unaware of its reasoning or circumstances under which our paths, like never-ending lines, intersect for a brief, beautiful moment, never to meet again. Don’t forget to think about this while listening to the genre defining synth melody in this song.
It is estimated that Spotify contains work from nearly two million artists. With music already being a medium of hyper genre-based organization, it is incredibly easy to overlook thousands of musicians. Every now and again when browsing for new tunes, listeners can stumble across tracks that feel just right for their tastes; almost as if that song had been missing from their lives for years. Often times, that is exactly the case.
This was how I found the electronic music duo Telefon Tel Aviv in 2017. As an avid consumer of computerized art from several categories, that band name had been orbiting my peripheral vision for some time due to the 2016 reissue of their debut album with Ghostly International – one of my favorite record labels. At some point, a track from their record Immolate Yourself appeared on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. I don’t remember which track it was, because I thought I already had the full album saved in my library. The breathy synth pads and glitched, repetitive chords on the opening track “The Birds” sounded eerily familiar. As did the driving bass line and gated reverb snares on “Helen of Troy”. I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t a new release bound to join my collection, but instead Telefon Tel Aviv’s last recording as a full band from 2009. To me, this was an album incredibly ahead of its time.
This week marks the ten year anniversary of Immolate Yourself, and with that, a much more somber decennial. On January 27th, 2009, one week after the release of Immolate Yourself, founding member Charles Cooper was found dead. Remaining member Joshua Eustis cancelled their upcoming tour, posting on their MySpace page that he was unsure of the band’s future. He would eventually tour as Telefon Tel Aviv with the help from a close friend of the band, Alfredo Nogueira. Afterward, the project was left alone by Eustis for years, allowing room for the artist to explore new avenues and collaborations while healing from his personal tragedy. That moment in time is just a portion of the ongoing story behind Telefon Tel Aviv, a band that flew criminally below my radar for too long.
The duo met while in high school and began their career together years later in 1999. According to Eustis, the electronic music scene was, “pretty non-existent,” in America during this time. Setting up a studio in Eustis’s bedroom in his parents’ New Orleans house, he and Cooper would spend their nights out drinking until 5am at times, and stumble back home to make music. The first song they wrote together for their debut album Fahrenheit Fair Enough was “Introductory Nomenclature,” with the rest of the album taking nearly a year to finish, wrapping up recording in 2001. In an interview with Huck Magazine, Eustis blames this on naivety. The group painstakingly produced every glitch, beat, and melody for their first record by hand, claiming it was the only way they knew how to create the style the two were aiming for. As a finished product, Fahrenheit Fair Enough offers winding tracks filled with soft, echoey synth chords, distorted drums, and IDM signature stretched electronic noise.
For the album’s release, Telefon Tel Aviv was signed to Hefty Records, a Chicago, Illinois label founded in 1995 by John Hughes III. Otherwise known as the son of film director John Hughes. Yes, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles John Hughes. Hefty Records was the only label to receive a Telefon Tel Aviv demo, because according to Cooper, it was the only label the band was interested in joining.
Moving to Chicago to be closer to their label, Eustis and Cooper began production on their sophomore album shortly after releasing a b-sides and remix EP, Immediate Action #8. Telefon Tel Aviv’s second full-length project was intended to be divergent from the sounds on Fahrenheit Fair Enough on day one of production.
Wanting to challenge themselves on this new effort, Cooper said in a 2004 interview, “we put every stupid idea we could think of into this record.” The result was A Map of What Is Effortless, released on January 27th, 2004. a mashup of melodic orchestras, lyrical content delivered R&B style, and dancey rhythms married to the ambient/IDM soundscapes which built the band’s foundation. Unafraid to lose fans with the prospect of gaining a diverse audience, the album’s bold moments come through on the tracks “I Lied”, “My Week Beats Your Year”, “Nothing Is Worth Losing That”, and the explosive closing track, “At the Edge of the World You Will Still Float”.
After A Map of What Is Effortless, five years passed without another Telefon Tel Aviv release. Eustis met Ellen Allien, German electronic artist and founder of the techno label BPitch Control, through their mutual friend Sascha Ring (AKA Apparat) at Allien and Ring’s Chicago stop on a tour promoting their recent project Orchestra of Bubbles. Allien suggested that Telefon Tel Aviv should release their next album on her label, but there was no “next album” yet. This interaction prompted the beginning of what would be the final record Eustis and Cooper produced together, Immolate Yourself.
Taking heavy influence from the styles of krautrock, psychedelic, minimal wave, and bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the third Telefon Tel Aviv album took a direction that even the duo didn’t quite expect. Eustis and Cooper were aware they sounded like a different band, but they ultimately felt that result was a byproduct of so much time passing between records. Some fans were acutely aware of the group’s tonal change, ditching the glitchy IDM sounds for heavy synths just seconds into “The Birds”. Tracks with similar influence include “M”, “Stay Away from Being Maybe”, “You Are the Worst Thing in the World”, and of course the stand out track, “Helen of Troy”. On the Immolate Yourself Bandcamp page, the band remarks of this song, “We knew, after completing this song, that we were in fact finished with the record.”
Immolate Yourself isn’t entirely on a new path, however. Those who enjoy the ambient and experimental roots of Telefon Tel Aviv can find solace in the slower, layered songs “Mostly Translucent”, “I Made a Tree on the World”, and “Your Every Idol”.
On January 21st, 2009, just one day after the release of Immolate Yourself, Charles Wesley Cooper III went missing. He was found dead a week later; his official date of death set as January 22nd, 2009. Effectively, this was the end of Telefon Tel Aviv for over half a decade. Eustis would later speak out against rumors on the Internet that Cooper had planned to commit suicide after recording Immolate Yourself, given the album’s heavy and morose lyrical content. In Eustis’s words, “I hope that when you hear our records, whichever one it is that you like the most, you will remember [Cooper] and the joy that he brought to the world.”
Joshua Eustis continued to work on music, but not in the same way. With many connections through the music industry, Eustis was never short of projects on which to contribute his talents. Through Nine Inch Nails, the solo artist became acquainted with Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer. In 2011 Eustis was moved out to Los Angeles to engineer and program beats for Keenan’s new work on Puscifer. Afterwards, in 2013, Eustis would become a touring member of Nine Inch Nails, filling in on bass and keyboards when needed.
All the while, there existed what Eustis called a musical elephant in the room. Back in 2007, he began producing a handful of tracks that were meant for Telefon Tel Aviv. It was during this time when Eustis’s father was diagnosed with cancer. All of the recordings from that period were left unfinished on a hard drive, and got buried even further away after Cooper’s passing. In 2014, Eustis finished these tracks and released them in an album called Move to Pain under the solo moniker Sons of Magdalene. Clearly a deeply personal and sorrowful record, the minimal wave influences from the days of Immolate Yourself can still be heard on the new solo album.
In 2016, Fahrenheit Fair Enough was reissued on Ghostly International for its 15th anniversary, and in 2017, A Map of What Is Effortless was next in line for the Ghostly treatment. Simultaneously, Eustis founded a new band, The Black Queen, with former Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato and Nine Inch Nails tech Steven Alexander. With two albums already under their belt (Fever Daydream, 2016 and Infinite Games, 2018), Eustis’s musical influence can be observed in a fresh context. Listen to Immolate Yourself, then listen to Fever Daydream and try to tell me that the former album was not, indeed, ahead of its time. The comparison might satisfy Telefon Tel Aviv fans aching for new material.
That being said, 2016 marked the first time since 2009 that Josh Eustis took the stage as Telefon Tel Aviv. One year later, he published the violent, droning single “Something Akin to Lust”. Eustis continues teasing more content in the future, stating that he is slowly producing new work, trying to put himself into Cooper’s mindset with each track. After many painful years, and in several revitalized forms, Telefon Tel Aviv is grown again.
In last week’s wrap-up I mentioned that I wasn’t sure what I could possibly write about this week, as I only saw two releases I was interested in, both of which belong to stories that I have not fully read. Thankfully for one of them, By Night, there was only one issue to catch up on, which I already owned. The only other series that jumped out was Gideon Falls, a series written by Jeff Lemire – a favorite author/illustrator of mine – of which I haven’t read a single issue.
Turns out I’m just blind because checking the new comic release list online yesterday revealed two comic issues I’ve actually been anticipating for a while now. First, there is Flavor #3, continuing the story of a world where all chefs are celebrities who live and compete among each other in a walled city. Then, totally unbeknownst to me, Royal City #12 hit shelves today. Royal City was one of the first weekly comics I picked up way before I began this whole mess, and it has become an absolute favorite of mine. How I somehow missed it in this week’s releases, I’ll never know, but I’m excited to jump back into that story.
In order, I will be discussing the following comics:
By Night #2
Royal City #12
By Night #2 Writing: John Allison, Illustration/Cover Art: Christine Larsen, Coloring: Sarah Stern, Lettering: Jim Campbell. Published by BOOM! Box (of BOOM! Studios)
If By Night #1 took a turn for the weird by introducing an inter-dimensional portal in an abandoned industrial building, By Night #2 took a turn for the Even Weirder (real creative, I know) by showing us a taste of what’s inside said portal. The twilight mushroom forest filled with enormous flora is an exciting change of pace and scenery compared to this story’s usual North Dakota setting. It’s behind this portal where Jane and Heather meet Gardt, a confused, stumpy, green goblin with horns and a – uhhh – skeleton living inside his clothing. This skeleton also talks. Guess what – Gardt is my new favorite character in the story so far. Upon meeting Gardt, there is a glorious set of panels wherein all three characters scream in fear at one another, and I keep going back to this page because of how much I enjoyed this moment. By Night is a story that doesn’t want to be heavy handed, and it’s moments like those that really cement it as the silly “20-somethings go on an interdimensional romp” story that it’s shaping to be.
Of course, you can’t have a cake made entirely from icing. There is a possible threat introduced in this issue, and the stakes are raised dramatically by the conclusion of By Night #2. Additionally, some of the softer tones and meanings of this arc are explored briefly in the reasoning behind Jane and Heather’s second return to the portal. In just a few pages, more of Jane and Heather’s post-college life at home is explored. When facing legitimate, otherworldly danger, both characters decide to risk death in pursuit of a more fulfilling life compared to their humdrum life with which they’ve settled. Apply this metaphor to whichever huge decision comes up in your life next, 20-somethings who might be reading this!
This is the first time I’ve written about By Night because, as I mentioned in the conclusion of my last Log’s Comic Blog, I slept on that first issue for about a month. I can now say with confidence that I highly recommend picking up this story. Christine Larsen’s illustration is a fantastic example of how to be funny through image, and paired with John Allison’s writing, these characters come to life in a familiar, friendly way.
Flavor #3 Co-creator/Writing: Joseph Keatinge, Co-creator/Illustration: Wook Jin Clark, Coloring: Tamra Bonvillain, Lettering: Ariana Maher, Culinary Consultant: Ali Bouzari, Flatting Assistant: Fernando Argüello, Logo Design: Rich Tommaso. Published by Image Comics
To my immediate knowledge, this is the first book I’ve read with an action cooking scene. Listen, I’m not a fan of cooking. I’ll go as far as to say I hate cooking. You spend so much time buying, preparing, cooking, and cleaning, just to eat a meal that ends in 30 minutes. Then you have to do it again the next day. Flavor makes cooking look like way more fun than is legal (yes I used that adjective on purpose).
Flavor #3 begins where the last issue left off – the illegal, underground culinary fight club and black market called Fishmongers. Xoo Lim decides that the best way for her to acquire Garuda truffles and help her parents is to fight for them. In these scenes we get to see the humor of Flavor flourish. During the battle cooking scenes there is a wonderful amount of wordplay bait and switch where calls for violence are in turn wholesome and entirely about cooking. For example, a crowd member yells, “Keep ‘em bloody!” only for another onlooker to add, “I prefer well done!” This is what I buy comics for.
As the issue develops, we get to see more of the severity behind the culinary arts in the world of Flavor. The “law” arrives at the fight, everybody scatters, and the issue ends on a cliffhanger that just might seriously derail Xoo’s current objective. The last two issues of Flavor have done an excellent job setting up the story’s world, so a shorter, more action packed issue is very welcome, and the team behind Flavor knocked this one out of the park.
As was the case with By Night, this is my first time reviewing Flavor, so I need to say now how warming and approachable this series is. Flavor quite had me on the first page of issue #1. From there, the series has successfully built up its entertaining world of chefs with an Attack on Titan-esque threat and clever, witty writing all wrapped up with lush illustration and coloring. What sets Flavor aside from quite literally any other comic series I’ve read is Ali Bouzari, the culinary consultant and food scientist who adds a short essay about food to the end of every issue of Flavor. In this month’s issue, Bouzari writes about the concept of “Culinary Time Travel.” In brief, Bouzari describes that in order to well-prepare the food we eat, the application of heat, cold, and a combination of the two causes the nature of food to speed up, slow down, or even reverse in time. To have a short essay like this attached to an enjoyable story is themed effort that sometimes goes unappreciated, which is why I recommend picking up Flavor.
Royal City #12 Created, Written, and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire, Lettering: Steve Wands. Published by Image Comics
Royal City #12 is a rather short issue, mostly due to the fact that nearly half of the story is told through pictures. Royal City #11 ended on quite the reveal (which I won’t spoil because *everybody* needs to read this series), so in this issue it was really quite calming to sit down and reflect on this reveal and what it means for the Pike family. This story has always belonged to nostalgia. It’s visible in the clothing, the music, and of course in Jeff Lemire’s always dream-like water colored and thin-pencilled goodness. Royal City will be concluding in just two more issues, so hanging on each full page of art and soaking in the musical journey that the character in question is experiencing is a way of looking towards the conclusion of this story with sadness for its ending, and hope for some closure behind Tommy’s death and the Pike family’s ails.
I really should just start calling this section “coming up next week” because that’s really what this has morphed into.
Uhh, that being said… I just finished scrolling through the list of new releases next week. I don’t know how else to say this but I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna write about. Looking at Image Comics, they might be my best bet. Unless this is a mistake, it says Royal City #13 is coming out next week. Hey, I’ll take it, but we’ll see for sure when I walk into the comic book shop if it’s on the shelf. Aside from that, there is Shanghai Red #2, a series that I picked up on a whim last month because I listened to too much of The Decemberists the weekend prior and I was craving a story that took place on a boat. I didn’t love the first issue, but it’s something to read. My third option could be – and I really don’t plan on doing this – somehow acquiring and reading the entirety of Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen by next Wednesday because the series finale launches next week. That sounds like something fun to be a part of, but I’m inclined to be lazy (and cheap) and maybe wait for the collected graphic novel… Wow I sure did sell my next post, huh.
When I first started out buying weekly comics, I gave myself two rules: 1.) I would only buy arcs with two or three back-issues instead of frantically catching up on longer stories, and 2.) I would only buy comics that were continuing on the next New Comic Book Day. That week, it happened to be Coda and Isola that fell into both of those categories. I also happened to fall in love with both of those story arcs, and since then they’ve been on the top of my list for comics that have me flipping through my calendar, double-checking when I can finally continue reading them.
Needing a third comic book to review this week, I looked at She Could Fly from Berger Books and Dark Horse Comics, and Farmhand from Image Comics as my possible choices. They both seemed promising, in fact the former of which had been advertised quite heavily in previous comic books I’ve bought. However, they are both first issues, and I knew I could really only pick one to feature as first issues tend to be pretty top-heavy, adding onto this already heavy week. Upon reading the first few pages of Farmhand, I knew I had to write about it. It’s… exciting, to say the very least, and I’ve saved it for last for that very reason.
In order, I will be discussing the following comics:
Coda #3 Simon Spurrier, (A/C/Cvr A) Matías Bergara, (C) Michael Doig, (Cvr B) Julian Totino Tedesco, (Cvr C) Toni Infante. Published by BOOM! Studios
The last two issues of Coda have been a fascinating hodgepodge of frantic, wiry illustration, entrancing colors, and effectively humorous writing. Hum and his foul-mouthed deadly mutant unicorn are a duo that is always such a pleasure to see gallivanting around this horrid universe created by Simon Spurrier, which is why I’m most anxious for Coda #3. In the last issue we got to see Hum’s world turned upside down. Exiled from Ridgetown for discovering one of their deepest, most disturbing secrets, landing in the refuge of a senile wizard, his unicorn crippled due to poison from eating a mutant scorpion, and discovering his current strategy to save his wife Serka as entirely useless, Hum has seemingly hit rock bottom quite early in his trajectory. With nowhere to go but up, it’s finally time to see what Hum will do next in Coda #3.
Coda #3 begins – as the previous two issues have – with a letter to Serka. Also unicorn vomit. If there’s anything Coda is successful with, it’s hooking the reader on page one. This issue hooks you and drags you until the very last page. Coda #3 is easily the most action-packed issue of Coda, and it might even be the most action-packed monthly release I’ve read in general.
Hum’s story bounces back with insurmountable force in this issue. Progress is made at breakneck speed as Hum determines himself to undo all of his misdirection, and it’s done with the illustrative prowess I’ve come to expect from this series. Coda #3 has the most magnificent spread in the series so far. It’s a sprawling graphic of a hulking giant tugging along a city-sized land-boat while being pelted by cannonballs from the defending Ridgetown, surrounded by makeshift air crafts, enormous birds, and tanks all battling one another. I try to avoid spoilers, visual or written, but that deserves describing. I was paused on this spread for at least 5 minutes. This issue has a staggering amount of visually baffling panels beyond that spread, too; bloody, colorful collages that had me laughing in amazement almost every other page. I can only imagine how fun it must have been for Bergara to render these images.
On top of this, the issue ends in a reveal so incredible that I swear my neck hurt from whiplash once I closed the back cover. I wrote the introduction for this issue’s review several days ago, and when I wrote that Hum had “nowhere to go but up,” I really didn’t know how far up that meant. Writing about any story details in this review would mean spoilers on a rather large scale. If you haven’t yet picked up Coda, I highly recommend you pick up issues 1-3. The first three issues have a concise arc on their own that’s worth it to at least get a taste of this world.
Isola #4 Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl, (A) Karl Kerschl & MSASSYK, (L) Aditya Bidikar. Published by Image Comics
Isola might be the most beautiful comic series I’ve picked up since starting this whole hobby. The second half of Isola #3 took so long for me to finish because I kept gawking at almost every single panel. What’s more is the story exists within a lush universe rich with backstory, there’s so much to cling onto and dissect. In Isola #3 we were introduced to the Moro race of hybrid human/animals, hinting towards the magic (or is it?) of what may have happened to Queen Olwyn. At this point I may or may not be confused beyond recovery, but I’m still 100% along for this ride.
It seems Isola is at the point where question trading begins. Some questions are answered vaguely (maybe even not at all), while others sprout up in their place. Isola #4 is the shortest issue yet, and majority of this issue is taken up by one of the more intense and bloody action sequences seen so far in this series. For the first time I’m just a tad disappointed, but only because this arc has me so curious and wanting more after every page.
What we do get to see in this issue is more of the Moro race of hybrids. Particularly, we see a certain figure paid special attention who doesn’t speak and isn’t spoken of, but is a great source of interest for me. Scenes with the Moro still provide for some of my favorite panels in Isola, and this issue has the added bonus of getting a small visual taste of how things were before this arc began. These moments are magical, and colored in a nostalgic way which I appreciate. The universe of Isola continues to grow, which I am always on board for, however I was really hoping for just a bit more meat this time around.
Farmhand #1 (W/A) Rob Guillory, (C) Taylor Wells, (L, logo) Kody Chamberlain. Published by Image Comics
Starting on a new series always seems like a foolish idea when I gaze wondrously at the amount of comics I’ve managed to collect in my minor stint in the weekly comics world. Choosing to start Farmhand was a decision made, as is normally the case for a new series for me, because of the cover art and the illustrations I saw from my cursory flip-through in store. The tiny, tiny bit of information I read about Farmhand had me curious, but not yet excited. Full disclosure: I wrote this intro after having read the issue. In short and without spoiling anything, I’m glad I chose Farmhand.
Farmhand #1 is a comic that knows it’s absolutely absurd. To break out some real college-level in-class critique verbiage, there’s a lot to unpack here in this impressively ambitious debut issue. Farmhand #1 asks the question, “What if you could plant and harvest human organs?” and it answers that question with levity, for the most part. When the severity kicks in, though, it kicks hard.
I am new to Rob Guillory’s work, but the first aspect to strike me was, of course, his art style. I’m in love with how seamlessly Guillory’s characters can be depicted as caricature in one panel to stern realism in the next panel. Throughout Farmhand #1 it also benefits to pay close attention to the backgrounds. There are little bits of humor tucked away in corners for those willing to look. A few of my favorite examples include a sign in a bathroom that reads, “Wash yo stank hands,” a scientists clipboard with only one note, “ Analysis: WTF science,” and of course, a welcome brochure labelled, “Private parts.” Yes. You can grow genitals in this universe. Contrasting visual humor – and the snappy writing too – with the familial struggles and detail heavy backstory about discovering a “new type of human stem cell” allowing for the growth of human organs only amplifies both extremities of humor and serious plot.
Given all of the above, the characters of Zeke and his family, who have a surprising amount of development for issue #1, are like-able and believable off the bat. This story’s beginning is given a concise angle while also providing enough detail to fully understand the scope of this series. Essentially, this first issue accomplishes everything it needs to, and with amazing flourish to boot. Farmland #2 hits shelves on August 8th, 2018, and I already know I need a copy.
Damn. I need a cigarette after this week’s releases. I don’t even smoke, I just think it’ll help.
I feel so lucky to have had a week this rich in good content for the second Log’s Comic Log. Many of these comics capture that pure joy of getting a hit of a good story, and I’m ecstatic to have Farmhand as yet another new series to keep up on. Now I just need to make sure I don’t get too overwhelmed…
That being said, next week it’s hard to say what I might want to write about. By Night #2 from BOOM! Studios is coming out, but I haven’t read the first issue that I’ve been carrying around in my bag and may or may not have forgotten about (shhhh please don’t tell shhhhh). Gideon Falls is another series continuing next week that I’m interested in, but haven’t read the 4 issues preceding this upcoming release. Jeff Lemire is a favorite of mine in the comics world, it only makes sense that I should read it. That also means purchasing and reading 4 issues by next Wednesday… As for a third comic, we’ll see! If anybody has recommendations, I’m always open to them.
I’m the kind of Canadian that apologizes by saying “sahr-ee” instead of “sore-ee”. This is to say, Canadian by nationality, but raised in the States. My parents made sure I always remembered that I am, in fact, Canadian. Today I thank them for that, but as an impressionable pre-teen my Canadian-ness became an easy identity to latch onto and be “that Canadian kid” in school even though I had no cultural experience to back it up with. Despite spending two weeks every summer visiting family in Toronto and vacationing in the Kawarthas, I did not have a grasp on what it meant to be Canadian. I didn’t know the names and capitals of all the Provinces, I didn’t know the history, and I didn’t know what a “Prime Minister” was. I couldn’t even tell you the ingredients of poutine.
I was a fake Canadian.
At age 13, during the most introspective arc of my early teenage years, I decided enough was enough and I executed a deep dive into my roots, or, what I thought it meant to be Canadian. This inevitably led to the discovery of The Tragically Hip.
For the unaware, The Tragically Hip (known colloquially as “The Hip”) are lovingly referred to as “Canada’s band” up north; a well kept secret that, while willing to share, Canadians are proud to call a product of their own land. The five-piece band from Kingston, Ontario gained popularity in the early 90’s through their bar-rock sound and memorable, improvised performances led by frontman and lyricist Gord Downie – a figure whom I would grow to swiftly idolize. As a point of comparison for Americans, I agree with statements I’ve read before claiming that Gord Downie is to Canada as Bruce Springsteen is to the United States (more specifically the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania tri-state area).
I suspected The Hip’s cultural relevance early on. My mental “detective cork board” full of Canadian media always placed The Hip at the center with bits of string connecting to other examples I loved. Between testimonials by members of bands like Barenaked Ladies and Rush to cameos in TV shows like Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys, I obviously had to like this band.
That Christmas I was gifted a copy of The Tragically Hip’s ninth studio album In Between Evolution. It feels strange to admit this now, but I really did not enjoy this album on first listen. The first track, “Heaven Is A Better Place Today”, kicks off with harsh, singular electric guitar tones and a sour-tuned Gord Downie half shouting lyrics that hardly made sense to me. I remember thinking, “Why is this band so important to Canada if they sound like this?” But I had to like this band. I was persistent, and learned to looked for more Hip songs on the Internet. That’s when I listened to the song “Bobcaygeon” for the first time.
This track caught my eye not because of the odd spelling, but because it’s the name of a town in Ontario that I visited several times as a child. Bobcaygeon is tucked away in Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes, just between Sturgeon Lake and Pigeon Lake. For the longest time I was convinced barely anybody knew of this quaint little town my family used to visit on boat trips. To me, Bobcaygeon was where my family would dock our boat, buy some ice cream, and relax, watching boats pass through the water locks (it’s more fun than it sounds, believe me). In The Hip’s “Bobcaygeon,” it is where “The constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” to the character in the song – a Toronto cop who regularly escapes to this small countryside town to spend time with their lover and frequently considers quitting work to settle down. I immediately loved this song. I knew I found something special; something I would cherish, dissect, and celebrate for years.
Finding “Bobcaygeon” helped focus my lens to more of The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie’s explicitly Canadian lyrics. From there it was a short search to find story-rich tracks like “Fifty-Mission Cap” about the disappearance and discovery of Bill Barilko, hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose last goal “won the Leafs the cup” in 1951. As the song describes, the Maple Leafs “didn’t win another / ‘til 1962 / the year he was discovered”. On the same album there is “Wheat Kings”, the story of David Milgaard’s wrongful life imprisonment in 1970 for a murder he did not commit, and “Looking For a Place to Happen”, starring Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who traversed land inhabited by the aboriginal people of Canada, ultimately leading to the annexation of that land from the 1500’s through the 1800’s. If other songs weren’t centric to Canadian stories, the topics within provided further reading. A few favorite examples are the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union (“Fireworks”), writer Hugh MacLennon (“Courage”), painter Tom Thomson (“Three Pistols”), and even more small Canadian towns in “Fly” (“There’s Mistaken Point, Newfoundland / there’s Moonbeam, Ontari-ari-o / there are places I’ve never been / and always wanted to go”)
One point that should be made clear is that The Tragically Hip are not a nationalist band. The difference between flippant pandering and deep rooted storytelling was present in the lyrics from the beginning. Gord Downie’s mentioning of Canadiana doesn’t exist to be pointed at and say, “oh look, there we are,” while waving a foam #1 hand covered in maple leaves. Instead what Downie provided was a discography equivalent to a beautifully written book on Canada’s culture. Within Downie’s lyrics there exists as much criticism as there is adoration of Canada’s stories. I could have learned about Canadian history from Wikipedia pages but it would not have been anywhere close to the emotional experience I had consuming The Tragically Hip’s work, song by song.
That does raise the question again of what exactly is Canadian culture – not just the history, but the living, breathing present-day culture? As a child my knowledge of Canadian representation was hockey, beer, and a strange fascination with furry lake region wildlife. Even then, why did that matter? In an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld recalls a Larry Miller joke about Canada to Norm MacDonald (a Canadian). In short, the joke likens Canada to being captured by aliens who observed America through telescopes and rebuilt it on their home planet. Upon release, you would think, “Oh great, I’m home!” only to slowly realize that “something is terribly wrong.” The point being, there isn’t a whole lot different between Canada and America – a conclusion I’m confident a plethora of traveling Americans have achieved on their own. Majority of us speak the same language, our accents hardly differ, we drive on the same side of the road, and aside from most Americans’ inability to understand why Curling exists, we play the same sports.
The Tragically Hip helped me understand some hidden corners of Canada, so for a moment I thought I could obtain and share pieces of Canadian culture with my friends. The summer of 2007 I extended my vacation north and spent a month in Toronto, staying with my relatives. At the time I must have believed myself to be a young Anthony Bourdain – a traveler who did their research and embarked on a wondrous journey of cultural discovery. Off I went to live the life of a Canadian. I wore the Roots clothing, ate poutine, saw a Blue Jays game at the Skydome, visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, drank at least one Tim Hortons iced cappuccino a day, and I essentially learned nothing. Something was terribly wrong.
Perhaps then I returned home with some fleeting sense of accomplishment, having basked in “all things Canadian” for a month of my summer. While I did have fun, my time spent up north was spent consuming stuff. After all of my romanticization of The Tragically Hip, my cultural appetite was surface level. At the age of 14, what more can be expected? Maybe I didn’t experience the Canada that Gord Downie was singing about, but I didn’t know any better either. In the following two years I devoted gross amounts of time towards learning Tragically Hip songs on my acoustic guitar, and in 2009 I had a reprisal of my month long trip to Canada. This time my cousins and I didn’t confine ourselves to Toronto. After many uncounted years, this was the summer I returned to the lakeside vacation spot in the Kawarthas that my family used to visit every summer in my early childhood. Except now I was armed with my guitar, a literal book of songs I knew how to play, and all of the charismatic bravado a 16-year-old could possibly muster.
Located about a two hour drive northeast of Toronto, the lakeside resort of Pine Vista is a picturesque gathering of cabins on Gilchrist Bay, letting out on Stoney Lake in the Kawartha region. In every sense of the word, Pine Vista is a family resort. On the first night of every weekly stay there is a “campfire sing along” held by the management. It’s a means for the guests to get together so the kids can roast marshmallows and the parents can drink – and I was there to show off. With permission, I was allowed to swap in for a handful of songs. To my memory I played “Wheat Kings” and “Bobcaygeon” by The Hip, making sure to slyly mention our physical proximity to Bobcaygeon, and I finished off with “If I Had $1000000” by Barenaked Ladies (for the kids). The next afternoon, after a day of canoeing, a guest approached me on the beach and told me how much she enjoyed my playing. She told me that “Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies” from “Wheat Kings”, referencing the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is one of her favorite lyrics of all time.
This was my first random encounter with a fan of The Tragically Hip, and it wasn’t the only one I had that week. Each night by the lakeside fire, guests would request for me to play more Tragically Hip songs. Between performances, parents would trade their fishing stories of the day or joyfully recall stories from their past. Their children would actively complain about the amount of Tragically Hip they were forced to endure on this vacation. One father asked if I knew “Fifty-Mission Cap” only because that song in particular irked his son the most. All the while we were inhabiting piney, lakeside Canada. This was surely the Tom Thomson painting Gord Downie had in mind when writing “Three Pistols”. These were the fishing trip stories Bill Barilko would have shared before his untimely disappearance detailed in “Fifty-Mission Cap”. Each of these families were living a life similar to that Toronto cop in “Bobcaygeon”. When conversation lulled, we were greeted by a loon call much like the one that begins “Wheat Kings”.
Gord Downie was writing about that Canada. An oddly specific, ironic, and homely Canada that, in one moment, jokes about using a frozen fish as a bocce ball jack on an ice fishing trip, and in the next moment, waxes poetic about a city called Saskatoon. On its own, The Tragically Hip’s music gave me a semblance of that Canada as I sat in my suburban Pennsylvania room surrounded by physical morsels of my home country. It wasn’t until a lack of trying presented an unforgettable moment with people whom I would never speak to again when I understood why Gord Downie wrote these songs for The Tragically Hip. Every song I played had more than a hint of realism to it which elicit reminiscence for everyone at that fire. Real stories that don’t require a pedestal and often end with “you had to be there” held more meaning to the Canadian identity I sought after than the tally of how many times I visited a Tim Hortons that summer.
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip had a thorough foundation for the intimacies of Canadians. The music is a dog whistle, and when the subtleties of their songs are heard it justifies the urge to call The Hip “Canada’s Band”. That might be why, in his final years, Gord Downie broke the fourth wall of that subtlety. On the last show of The Hip’s final tour, taking place mere weeks after a heartbreaking announcement about Gord Downie’s diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, Downie spoke directly to Canada in a rare moment. Addressing the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Downie said, “He cares about the (indigenous) people way up north that we were trained our entire lives to ignore. Trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there.” Downie was referring to the brutal history of Canadian indigenous residential schools where children were forcibly removed from their families to attend, with the intention of assimilating them to Canadian culture while erasing their own.
If Gord Downie was going to write about Canada, he was going to write about all of it – especially the uncomfortable subjects. Reflecting on my life of love for The Hip, Downie’s final message remains the most relevant, shining example of the identity the band represents. Canada is a country to be loved, and doing so by trading stories by a fire is a fraction of the effort. Acknowledging Canada’s flaws, big or small, is the best way to preserve these quirks. I was lucky enough to have The Tragically Hip teach me all of this through song.